You’re Not Helping

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A contested election. Out of control pandemic numbers. Unemployment. Turmoil.

These are the times we are living in right now. As I write this, there are more people in the hospital with Covid-19 than at any point in the pandemic. In El Paso, there are more people hospitalized than there are in several states. Grim warnings about the holidays and the danger they pose make our regular family get togethers even more complicated. Everything feels so out of control, because it mostly is.

There are some things we do have control over. One of these is your reaction to those who have family members who are fighting the coronavirus or have a family member who died from it. I can’t promise I have always had the correct reaction to news of this sort, but my own experience with this, and with my experience many years ago when my mother was dying of cancer, helped me understand some of the things you shouldn’t say.

I have sadly listened as friends and family members have recounted some of the callous things people have said to them. “Did they take HCQ? That might have helped them.” “How do you know they really died from Covid? The doctors are lying about it to make money.” Or the always classic, “I don’t think that is what (insert family member’s name here) died from. People are putting that on death certificates because they hate Trump.”

Even if every one of these statements were valid (and I can assure you, they’re not), what in the world would make you think this is comforting to grieving people?

When my mother died from cancer, she was 50. A beautiful, elegant and quiet woman, she really never looked a day over 40. I was 21 when she died, and now that I am older, I understand even better how young she really was and how much of her life was snuffed out by cancer. I remember the words of well meaning friends that, in their efforts to say something comforting, instead said things that were tortuous at the time. For example:

“Your mom looks so good. Surely she isn’t really that sick (said two days before her death).” “Well, you knew her death was coming, right? That must have helped.” “Don’t you think your mom would want you to move on after her death? She wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

I could give you more, but you get the idea. I truly believe all of the things people said were said out of love and trying to help, but the truth is, there are no words, no pat answers, that can make the grief and helplessness better. What most people meant to help usually came off as dismissive. The only things people said that were of comfort were things like, “I love you and your family.” “I’m so sorry.” or, “I thought a lot of your mom. I am praying for you all.”

Relating all of this to the comfort of our friends and acquaintances who are going through Covid in a more personal way than you are: if you truly want to comfort someone, but don’t know what to say: nothing is better than saying something you shouldn’t. Relating how most of the people you know that had Covid were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms only makes things worse. Asking tons of specific questions about treatment is often exhausting to the person answering all of those questions. And if you are going to bring up your own politicized views about covid to a grieving person, just go ahead and slap them in the face while your saying them, because that is exactly what it feels like.

If you really want to help someone, and we now all know someone who has lost a loved one to this disease, try following the mitigation efforts so we can put this behind us. Acknowledge their grief instead of trying to minimize it. Send a card. Show support. If you’re a praying person, pray for comfort for those affected. And try your best not to stick your foot in your mouth and make someone who is already heartsick feel even worse. I can’t promise I will always succeed, but I am going to give it my best effort. I hope you will, too.

The importance of gratitude, and other things I wish I had learned sooner

I have a confession to make: sometimes I’m a little slow.

Okay, so maybe sometimes I am really slow.

Slow to learn. Slow to understand. Slow to see the importance of things staring me right in the face.

I wish it hadn’t taken me to get to retirement age to figure out some of the most important things in life. This pandemic has helped me in this regard: it has made me slow down and reflect in ways I just didn’t take the time to do before. So in that way, I am thankful for this pandemic.

Here are a few of the things I have learned that I wish I had learned a bit more quickly:

The little, everyday things really are the most precious things in this life. A sip of strong, hot coffee. A baby’s giggle. The way the sunlight is different in autumn, giving everything it shines on a glow. Pay attention to these things instead of worn-out recliner in your living room you would like to replace, or the telemarketer’s annoying calls.

You can wear a mask without giving up your freedom. You can sacrifice for the good of others without compromising your values. It’s called loving your neighbor.

Everyone you meet has value and deserves dignity. You will never regret being kind to people, even though some will repay your kindness with ugliness. Do it anyway.

You can live without cable television.

You don’t have to engage in every argument you are invited to. Just walk away, change the subject, or keep scrolling.

More stuff never made me happier. Being around the people I love is what makes me happy.

Jesus loves me. And you. And all the people you can’t stand. I can try to emulate him, but I also know I am human and will never be at his level.

Calling out hatred, injustice, and plain old meanness is just as important as loving people. There are so many people who are suffering and those of us who have so much in this country should be striving to try to make their lives better.

Although I am 64 years old, my brain still thinks I am 25.

In the end, love will always save the day.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Choose Your Hard

There is a meme that is floating around social media right now called, “Choose Your Hard.” Here is what it says:

Marriage is hard.
Divorce is hard.
Choose your hard.

Obesity is hard.
Being fit is hard.
Choose your hard.

Being in debt is hard.
Being financially disciplined is hard.
Choose your hard.

Communication is hard.
Not communicating is hard.
Choose your hard.

Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard.

What I do like about this meme is that it reinforces the idea that we all have choices to make in this life, that we are not always victims of circumstances. But like many memes, it minimizes the choices into an either/or mentality. For example, a person doesn’t always “choose” divorce”- sometimes it is thrust upon them without any discussion. Obesity isn’t always a “choice”; sometimes there are uncontrollable issues causing it. And so on.

There is, however, one difficult but necessary choice we can all make right now, with Thanksgiving looming and Christmas in the near future. It is a decision that frankly, none of us want to make. It is the choice to totally disrupt holidays for the sake of not spreading Covid.

Like many of you, we have chosen to change up our traditional Thanksgiving get together. My husband and I have hosted his family, along with several friends, at our house for over 20 years. Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday, because it is the least commercial and is basically about family, food, and gratitude. It was a very tough decision to make.

It never occurred to me when health officials recommended that people limit gatherings to their immediate bubbles that some people would think this was government overreach. There have been lots of comments from all kinds of people saying something along the lines of “the government can just stay out of my family gatherings and can’t tell me who gets to come to my house.” I truly just thought health experts were emphasizing that most viral spreads occur in a setting that looks like a family gathering: indoors, people in close proximity for several hours, people who hadn’t been around one another on a daily basis. I would never think to protest wearing a seatbelt because the government was trying to control what I do in my car. Or, how dare they tell me not to text and drive? What about my First Amendment right to free speech?

Lest you think I am being a total wimp or scaredy cat about this virus, let me tell you what I have seen and heard from people that I know (not friends of friends, not posts from strangers) that are going on right now because of this virus:

I know of four people personally who have died in the past two weeks due to Covid or Covid-related hospitalizations.

A friend and former student who is a respiratory therapist at a local hospital noted that, when she has to put someone on a vent, there is a 98% chance THEY WILL NOT SURVIVE.

A friend spent the entire night in the ER because there were no rooms and/or beds available. He had already been in the hospital previously with Covid.

Another friend recently lost her dad due to a health care worker bringing Covid into the hospital. He was there recovering from surgery and was about to be released, but contracted the virus and died soon after.

I want almost MORE THAN ANYTHING to see my family and celebrate in our traditional way. I have to draw the line at risking a loved one’s health because I refused to follow the advice of health care experts. Sometimes we have to sacrifice in order to help others. I couldn’t live with myself if I thought my refusal to adjust caused someone to be denied the help they needed at the hospital, or contracted Covid and had serious or fatal issues because I was “asserting my rights.”

I am choosing to focus on gratitude instead. I am grateful that I have family that I will get to see and gather with safely– later. I am thankful that we have a comfortable place to live and never worry about where our next meal is coming from. I am so blessed to have good health. And I am thankful for public health experts who are working so hard to try and help us flatten the curve.

Matthew McConaughey said it well: “Life’s not fair. It never was, it isn’t now and it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the trap, the entitlement trap, a feeling like you’re a victim. You are not; get over it and get on with it.”

A Free and Fair Election

“Why shouldn’t there be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” Abraham Lincoln

As I write this post, the 2020 presidential election is still undecided. Votes are still being counted in many states, and as far as I know, no states have certified their results. So all of us wait, some patiently, some impatiently. Some of you watch the results with hypnotic regularity, while others, like myself, have chosen to watch reruns of Seinfeld and The West Wing and just check in occasionally to see how the count is going. Some of you are drinking voluminous amounts of wine and eating Little Debbies snack cakes, which has made you feel sick, but not because of the tedious process we are all tracking.

There’s also been a lot of noise out there about how this hasn’t been a free and fair election.

If you know me personally, you know that I am no political analyst. I am a retired teacher and counselor who loves this country, no matter who the president is. So please bear with me, because along with being a teacher, I have done a lot of research from a lot of sources that helps me feel good that when the last vote is counted, we will have had yet another free and fair election. Here are a few of the things I have learned that have helped me come to this conclusion:

“Mail- in voting is subject to fraud.” There are any number of facts that really blow this statement out of the water. First of all, there are five states- Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington- who send ballots to all registered voters. Utah, a heavily Republican state, has an approximate 90% mail-in voting rate. Arizona, who has an 85% mail-in rate in this election, is still too close to call, with the lead of each candidate changing constantly. And in Pennsylvania, any and all votes that were received after election day have been sequestered and not counted in the total, since there seems to be some question about the validity of those votes. And in Oklahoma, no mail-in ballots are counted if they are not received the day before the general election.

“The poll workers are engaging in sketchy counting and are not counting all of the votes.” This claim makes a short woman (me) furious. I have friends who are poll workers, and they are some of the most honorable, hard working people I know. My mother-in-law worked for the county election board for several years, and I know she would second that statement, Every single poll worker I have ever been in contact with takes her job very seriously. And in every single polling location in the United States, there are bipartisan counters and poll watchers. Some places, like the center in Philadelphia, has a live video feed so that anyone who wants to sit and observe can do so. There has not been any need for extra observers because they are already there. And if some of these ballots aren’t “legal”, and have been hurting the president’s count, wouldn’t it stand to reason that it would also hamper the votes of Republican senators and representatives? There doesn’t seem to be any allegations of that happening.

“They are finding ballots with deceased people’s names on them.” There is literally no evidence from any fact based source of this happening in this election. A meme or tweet is not evidence: it is probably disinformation. Please act like a responsible citizen and stop sharing things that are undocumented. The actual evidence of anyone voting using someone else’s identity is statistically insignificant, and that has been checked out by both parties.

“It shouldn’t take this long to count ballots, so there must be something fraudulent going on.” This doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, but I will just give you a few: One, there is an unprecedented number of people who voted in this election, which I view as a wonderful thing. Secondly, because of the huge number of absentee and mail-in ballots, it is taking so much longer to count than it did in the last election. And perhaps most importantly, poll workers are being very careful and methodical about their counting, because they want to be accurate and avoid the fiasco of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

“The Trump campaign is filing lawsuits to reveal the fraud that is going on.” There have already been numerous lawsuits filed, and all have been dismissed except for one, and that contested the distance the poll watchers were standing from the poll workers counting ballots. That issue was quickly resolved when poll watchers were moved from ten feet away to six feet away. All other suits so far have been dismissed as frivolous. If votes totals in any state are close enough for a recount, I would hope they are recounted. And rather than making vague claims about voter fraud, it would be so much more helpful to just present the evidence in court and let the system work. I refuse to listen to undocumented claims of chicanery where no real evidence exists. If there is evidence of fraud, that should be prosecuted no matter who it favors.

Here are some things I hope we all can agree on: our election process has always been the envy of the world, and all of these unsubstantiated allegations tarnish our image. All citizens should desire a free and fair election, and just because the process of voting has adjusted to society, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fair. It is absolutely wonderful that we have had a record turnout of voters, because that truly is democracy in action. And lastly, we will all be glad when the counting is over, because if you are like me, my patience is not always where it should be.

Our system, while often messy and inefficient, is still the greatest there is. A much bigger issue for us in this country is the horrible division we are all seeing right now, and that is a problem that cannot be decide in a court of law. It must be solved by people like you and me. It will be long, hard work, but necessary if we want our country to survive. And in spite of all of the divisiveness, I still believe we can find what unites us, make concessions, and keep our country growing and thriving. When the dust finally settles after this election, let’s roll up our collective sleeves and get busy.

This is My America

“Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.” Keith Ellison

It is the weekend before the general election .Unless you have been living off the grid, you have no choice but to be aware of this. There are already over eighty million people who have voted absentee or through early voting, and stats such as these are so encouraging. It tells me our citizens want to participate in the election process, which is what initially set our country apart from the rest of the world.

We are a nation of strivers, and each of us has a slightly different view of what we strive for this country to be. I am going to share mine here.

There are two phrases from the U.S. Constitution that especially resonate with me: “Equal justice under the law” (14th Amendment), and “All men (people) are created equal” (Declaration of Independence). I believe, with all my heart, that these two phrases are an acid test for decision making in the voting booth. Our forefather’s radical views have not only changed our country, but have been a model around the world for other countries who seek freedom and a participatory government. One thing I have learned over the years is that someone who can disagree with me on most political things would probably still agree that these principles remain true to the pursuit of democracy. If a candidate or state question cannot pass or doesn’t support either of these two principles, they will not get my vote.

I really strive to vote in every election, because I know it is such a privilege. Louis Brandeis said, “The most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen.” It saddens me when I go to the polls and I am one of only a handful who has voted. At one school bond issue election, I was one of a total of three people who voted at my polling place that day. That’s so disheartening, because it tells me that, more often than not, citizens aren’t willing to take even a few moments to exercise this privilege.

I have never been a fan of the Electoral College. People will try to give me all sorts of philosophical reasons why “you really want the EC, it’s in your best interest”, but I don’t buy it. I like the idea that even if the majority of my state has chosen a different candidate, my vote still counts. I also dislike the idea that electors can go against how the majority of the state voted and choose the candidate they want. I like voting in its purest form– one person, one vote.

For this election, people have been waiting for hours in the early voting lines, and voting in record numbers. People have also been mailing in votes in record numbers. There is a lot of noise out there saying that if votes aren’t received by November 3rd, they should be tossed out like they aren’t real votes. That is political doubletalk. Each state gets to decide its own voting rules, and many of them are willing to count any vote as long as it is postmarked before election day. Each state is equipped with an election board who works diligently to ensure that votes are counted as quickly as possible. And in no election in modern history have we known election results on the day of the election: please don’t take my word for it, just look it up yourself. Ever heard of President Dewey? He was the projected winner in 1948, but once the votes were finally tabulated and certified, Harry Truman was our president.

In my America, we accept the winners of elections. It doesn’t matter if I agree with their views or not, as long as they have been chosen by the people. In my America, every citizen who has followed the process of registering to vote has the right to do so within the guidelines of the state they live in. Anything less or any attempt to suppress voting is a threat to the democratic process.

In my America, the people choose who represents them– not the wealthy, not the most powerful, not even the nicest or most intelligent. Every single one of us has an equal say. So use your power, go vote, or shut your mouth and stop complaining about what you don’t like in our country.

I know none of this is particularly earth shattering or even new, but I also know we sometimes are lulled into thinking it doesn’t matter that much if we miss an election here or there. We don’t love the things we come to take for granted in our daily lives. For example, who thinks much about breathing until they suddenly can’t? We assume our democracy is solid, that voting is a right that will always be there. But if we the people don’t take our elections seriously, someone may step into power that has a different idea. Protecting our rights is up to each of us. The next few weeks will be interesting, and I am thankful people are engaged and voting in record numbers.

“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Susan B. Anthony

Mass Hysteria

I have based my life’s work on the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword, that words matter because they can heal or hurt in so many ways. The misuse of words can cause us to do abominable, hurtful things to our fellow humans and can cause the phenomenon known as mass hysteria.

I think we are witnessing it now.

Mass hysteria is defined as a condition affecting a group of persons, characterized by excitement or anxiety, or irrational behavior or beliefs. It can also be an inexplicable illness, but that really isn’t pertinent to this discussion. It is often driven by fear.

Some people are consumed with the idea that the entire worldwide scientific community has conspired to submit the rest of us to the “hoax” of the coronavirus. Others are certain that we have Hollywood celebrities that drink children’s blood and adrenochrome and are secretly trafficking children and protecting pedophiles. Does any of this make any logical sense? Where are the facts to back up these ideas? The sheer repetition of such ideas can make them seem true, even when they are patently false.

What fuels mass hysteria is the power of suggestion. According to verywellmind.com, mass hysteria is related to groupthink. Dr. Irving L. Janis defined groupthink as “a psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses dissent and appraisal of alternatives in cohesive decision-making groups.” If an idea is put forth strongly enough and frequently enough, people begin to believe it is true whether or not the evidence of truth is there. An example from early American history is the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Many of the women and men hanged for witchcraft were accused by a group of young girls, but no one saw anything solid or had any real evidence. Even the courts of the day began to take the word of the young girls over other, more steady voices in the community. And it turned out there were some underlying reasons that people were willing to let their fellow community members be labeled as witches: greed, jealously, covetousness. It was a bleak time in history.

I used to teach Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”, and explained that he wrote it at a time in America when dissent was unsafe and speech was being curtailed by many different entities. In the early 1950s, to disagree with the administration in charge would result in being labeled a Socialist, Communist, or at the very least, a “sympathizer”. People lost their jobs because they received such labels, and many people were afraid to speak out. While reading “The Crucible”,students would say it seemed impossible to believe the court would let these lying girls send innocent people to their deaths. As Miller said, “the thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. So the evidence has to be internally denied.”

Does that have a familiar ring to it?

“The Crucible” was about the Salem witchcraft trials, and a lot of parallels could be drawn between the mass hysteria of that time and the 1950s. Until it was finally disbanded, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, led by Senator Joe McCarthy, led a reign of terror that basically called anyone they didn’t like a Communist. I can see some disturbing similarities to that era and our present one. There is a ton of groupthink going on, and some of that has gotten so extreme that it could probably be termed as mass hysteria. A recent example is the moment in one of the Trump rallies where the crowd chants, “lock her up!” The subject of the chant? The governor of Michigan. In 2016, when the Christian author Max Lucado had the nerve to ask in one of his columns if people thought Trump was a decent man, he received death threats from other Christians. This is groupthink at its worst. I don’t have to point out that these are not people trying to be thoughtful citizens and voters. These are people caught up in the moment, chanting and saying things we can only hope most of them don’t really mean. And groupthink can occur on either side of the political arena, but the constant rallies by the Trump organization contribute to the groupthink phenomenon in a much more impactful and disturbing way.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health said groupthink increases as group cohesiveness increases, which may help explain the phenomenon of mass hysteria. The group members feed off each other’s emotional reactions, causing the panic to escalate. Suddenly anyone who isn’t part of a certain group is a socialist, Marxist, or at the very least, a liberal. Most of this is pure foolishness. Is Colin Powell a socialist? He endorsed Joe Biden. What about Cindy McCain? The last time I checked, she was a very staunch Republican. In reality, I think most of the people who are voting for Biden want change. Saying that they are Socialist is like saying every Trump supporter wants a dictator.

I have heard the argument from some evangelicals that this election is a fight for good vs. evil. Again, that isn’t appealing to people’s rational thought processes, but is instead works to stoke fear and sets up a terrible dichotomy. There are plenty of Trump supporters who are troubled by the nasty, mean spirited things he says and tweets. There are plenty of Biden supporters who either think his policy ideas are too liberal (or not liberal enough). But good vs. evil? Please. This isn’t Satan vs. Jesus. This is a democratic election, and to act like either side can only be one or the other shows me that you are not being a thoughtful person. Our country needs independent thinkers who will analyze and make decisions, not based on the meme of the day or some other catch phrase of groupthink, but on what is really good for this country. We are not always going to agree on what that is, either. We never have.

I have friends who are Biden supporters but don’t want people to know because they fear people will start thinking they are somehow “un-American”. I also know some silent Trump supporters who disagree with Biden’s policies but are ashamed of Trump’s public antics and don’t want to be associated with that image. This makes me believe that groupthink is doing it’s job– making people believe that there is only one way to think, which is about as un-American as you can get.

I look forward to a time when we can have differences in opinions without resorting to name calling; to people actually listening to what a person with a different viewpoint says; and to a day when, even if we can’t agree with them, we call each other brother and sister and still show respect for one another at the end of the day.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

In the late 1960s, there was a cigarette commercial that touted the first “women’s cigarette”. They were Virginia Slims, and the marketing ploy for this brand was that by smoking them, a woman would be asserting herself and showing that she had acquired the new-found freedom of the Women’s Movement. Although I wasn’t a smoker, I could see the brilliance of this campaign: just by changing your cigarette brand, you were somehow freer, more hip, and on the cutting edge. Even though I was a nerdy junior high student at the time, I could sing every word of the jingle (cigarettes were still advertised on television). There were a lot of interesting paradoxes about the ad campaign, one of which was the group that developed it was entirely comprised of men. The plan was to promote gender equality and women’s march towards this goal. The main problem here is that, in reality, gender equality was still far, far away.

Like most marketing campaigns, the pesky details that smoking might cause cancer, emphysema and a host of other maladies were left out. Also, having grown up in that era, here are several things that were still in place even though women had supposedly achieved equality:

  1. In 1982, at the age of 26, I applied for my first credit card. I had taught for four years. Visa would only accept my application if I had a man co-sign the application. My father signed because he felt it was important that I establish credit. A college graduate with a professional job and no real debt issues could not get a credit card if you were female, at least not by yourself.
  2. In my first teaching job, I coached both boys and girls high school track and field. At each track meet there was generally a coaches’ meeting before the start to go over rules and regulations. I was often the only woman in the room. Trust me, I was invisible. No one ever even looked at me, spoke to me, or acknowledged my presence. Only if I asked someone a direct question would I ever get any type of attention. After I had coached a few years and some of the coaches were used to seeing me around, they finally began to be a little more friendly and spoke to me like they realized I was actually supposed to be there. It didn’t hurt that I had some really good athletes, which I am pretty sure they noticed first.
  3. Buying a car in the 1980s– you guessed it- I had to have a male co-sign the loan with me. We women obviously weren’t supposed to buy things on our own. Again, my father was willing to sign because he knew I would make my payments on time. There are, of course, many more examples, but these are just a few things that I can dredge up that wouldn’t be a problem today.

All of this has been on my mind a lot recently because of two recent events: the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Amy Coney Barrett. RBG was a legend for her relentless pursuit of gender equality, and I won’t detail it here because you can find her history in any number of articles and books about her. She truly changed peoples’ lives, and not just those of women. Because of her, my twenty-something daughter was able to get a credit card while still in college without any help from me or her father. She wouldn’t think twice about trying to buy a car or that she might need to find someone to co-sign with her. We truly have come a long way as far as all of that goes. A doctor herself, she finds it bizarre when I tell her that when I was growing up and talked about being a doctor, most people would say something like, “honey, don’t you mean a nurse?”

There has been a lot of discussion about Amy Coney Barrett and her confirmation. Since it is pretty much a given that she will be confirmed, I want to mention something that I noticed about the hearing that was subtle but still unnerving to me. Barrett appears to be well qualified for the position, and except for limited experience in the judiciary (three years), has excellent credentials. Throughout the hearing she remained composed and articulate in what is a grueling process. One of the differences in her hearing and the men who were confirmed before her has been the way the senators have gushed on about her family. Several of the senators have droned on and on about how amazed they were by her and that she has a large family. I think it is wonderful that she has a beautiful family, but isn’t this essentially a job interview for the highest court in the land? In a regular interview, a person cannot even be asked about her children. Statisticians who keep up with this type of thing noticed the disparity of time talking about her children and family as compared with the last several hearings of male candidates. I’m not saying her family shouldn’t be mentioned at all, but the excessive talk about it should not have been a main focus.

As many of you know, there was the moment that went viral during the hearing when Barrett was asked to hold up her notepad to prove she had no notes in front of her. This delighted her supporters, who saw it as confirmation of how intelligent and prepared she was for the hearing. Is there really anyone who did not think that someone who taught at the Notre Dame School of Law for fifteen years would not be prepared? The whole exercise here seemed theatrical and a bit condescending to me. First of all, anyone who was looking at her could see that the notepad in front of her was blank. What bothered me about this was that it was so much like when I was growing up and a man might say something like, “Oh look! She is pretty and SMART, too!”, or some other slightly condescending statement. Would Senator Cornyn have asked a male nominee the same question? If one wanted to be snarky, one could say that she had no notes because the Republican senators had already indicated they were going to make sure she was in, so why prepare? If you know your confirmation is a sure thing, why not just wing it?

We as a nation are undoubtedly much closer to gender equality than we were when I was a young woman; we have indeed come a long way. The inequalities people face now are much more of an undercurrent, not as obvious as they were 50 years ago. One thing is for certain: we do not want to go backwards. We do not want to return to a time when women (or anyone else) were treated as second class citizens. The people who question the motives behind the Barrett hearing are right to ask all of the hard questions, even though the hearing was, in some respects, just a formality. Time will tell us what kind of justice Barrett will be. Some of what we have witnessed the past several days tells us that we still have work to do.

Sharpening Your Crap Detector

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer

“The greatest friend of con artists is lack of knowledge.” Jane King

When I was a senior in high school, I took physics because science was one of my favorite subjects. I don’t remember a lot of what we learned that year, but I vividly recall watching an old reel-to-reel film about relativity. At the beginning of the film, a distinguished looking gentleman in a suit, whom we could only see from the chest up, began discussing Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity. After a few moments, a variety of items started shooting from the bottom of the screen to the top past the speaker’s head. After a few more moments, the speaker revealed that he was really hanging upside down and the items we just saw flying up were actually the contents of his pockets that were falling out due to gravity. He let us know that the film editors had flipped the video so that he appeared right side up. We were learning a lesson in relativity and perspective. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

In this age of instant information (and equally instant disinformation), wading through all of this mess is like trudging through a mud hole. We mostly take things at face value, much like I did watching the physics film. It is often not until things go awry that we realize we have been duped. Our background, culture, and life experiences influence us in ways that we never realize. For example, when talking to a friend about COVID-19, he indicated that he didn’t believe it was real because he didn’t personally know anyone who had contracted it. “If this disease is so terrible, shouldn’t I know someone who has either died from it or has been terribly ill with it?” he said. We live in a sparsely populated area, so the COVID problem is not as pervasive as it is in urban areas. Part of the problem with his reasoning is that it relies on a pretty narrow information source from which to draw a broad conclusion. It is similar to saying that since I don’t know anyone who has died from the measles, it must not be deadly. Or, when I visited Washington D.C. years ago, a man I met, fascinated by the fact that I was from the backward (his word) state of Oklahoma, asked if we had cable television yet. I told him most of our tepees were equipped.

We just don’t know what we don’t know, and sometimes, even when confronted with new information that we have a strong suspicion is factual, our brains do not want to accept it because it doesn’t fit our perception of reality. In my first years of teaching, I taught at a small country high school that managed to qualify for the state basketball tournament. Like many small schools, this was a huge deal and school was dismissed so people could attend the game at the State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City. I rode to the game with a busload of high school students who had no other way to get there. One of the girls was talking to me and asked me where the arena was located. I told her it was in Oklahoma City, not far off of I-35. She looked at me puzzled. “What’s I-35?” she asked. “Do you mean I-40?” It took a little more conversation before I realized she had only heard of one interstate highway– I-40. She had never been to Oklahoma City before, although she only lived about an hour away. It had never occurred to her there might be more than one interstate with different numbers for identification. Her life experience didn’t encompass that fact, so it wasn’t real to her.

In these tumultuous, unsettling times, having- and using- discernment is critical. One of my professors at the University of Oklahoma, years ago, called this using your “crap detector”. I think we can all agree that there is a lot of disinformation, slanted news, and outright lies being thrown out to us by so many sources. It is coming from the Russians, the Chinese, QAnon, some organizations that call themselves media outlets–and the dutiful citizens who share and disperse this nonsense without verifying it first .When I took my first newswriting class in college, a student would receive a zero on any story that had an error in fact. Even a misspelled name could cause you to lose all credit for the assignment, because truth was the most compelling factor in the assignment.

Before we blame the media for some of the biased stories we are fed, remember: they are just catering to us, their audience. Our appetite for shock and awe stories has perpetuated this problem. Most of the journalists out there are doing a respectable job, and are trying to report with a balanced perspective. There are still some outlets that are trying to get it right. We really want and need journalists to keep digging for the facts, asking questions and reporting what they find out. Some people think President Trump is treated terribly by the White House press corps. In truth, no president has ever liked the press corps (Obama disliked them immensely) because they ask a lot of hard questions that require the president and his press secretary to stay on their toes. That is their job– to ask the hard questions.

So, use your crap detector. Understand that there are so many things you don’t know, but not because you are dumb; in this crazy information age, no one can know it all. Look things up so you can make informed decisions. Ask questions. Who knows? There might be a highway you never heard of, or the person who looks like they are standing straight up might just be hanging upside down. Perspective, experience, knowledge– these are qualities that make the difference between an informed citizen and a foolish, ignorant one. Our democracy needs an informed electorate, but you will have to sharpen up that crap detector if you want to get to some semblance of the truth.

Equal Justice Under the Law?

Stunned, shocked, angered: these were just a few of the emotions I felt when I heard the grand jury’s decision in the Breonna Taylor case. As I followed this story over the past several months, I can’t help but view it through the lens of motherhood. As a mom myself, it was terrifying to hear about a young woman being shot and killed in her own home in the wee hours of the morning. As a mom, I imagine the scene: my daughter is sleeping. She hears a ruckus at the front door, and it sounds like someone is trying to break in. She and her boyfriend hurriedly pull on clothes and her boyfriend grabs his pistol to defend them. In fear, the boyfriend shoots at whoever is breaking down the door. Fire is returned, and my daughter then lays lifeless in the hallway. Then, I imagine the repercussions. She will never have the chance to be a mom herself. All of her hopes, dreams, and loves her life might have held are now snuffed out forever. No one ever knows what they would do in such a situation, but I do know I would have a lot of questions, and there is no way I could rest until they were answered.

Here are some of the questions, that. as far as I can tell, have not been answered:

Why was there a no knock warrant in the first place? No one’s lives were in danger at that moment. The police claimed the reason for the warrant was to look for evidence that her apartment was used in drug related activity. Could the search not have taken place in broad daylight?

There are conflicting accounts about whether or not the police announced themselves. Apparently there was one witness that said they heard the announcement, but multiple witnesses who claimed they did not hear it. Who do we believe?

Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, an accused drug dealer, was already in custody at that time, so the main suspect of the crime was no longer a danger to the public. Why the need for a forceful entry into an ex-girlfriend’s home?

When the police report was filed, Taylor’s name and shooting were not even mentioned: only the boyfriend was mentioned and the fact that he fired first, endangering the lives of the officers. Doesn’t this seem like this is a huge omission of an important and disturbing fact of what happened that night?

Taylor’s family was awarded 12 million dollars in a wrongful death lawsuit settlement by the City of Louisville, along with an agreement to enact sweeping police reform. The city claimed this is not an “admission of guilt”, but what exactly is it then?

Please understand that I write this as a private citizen. First, I am not an attorney or in any way an expert in knowledge of the law. But must you be a lawyer to understand these glaring discrepancies? Shouldn’t the average American citizen be able to have at least a rudimentary understanding of laws?

Secondly, the policemen who were sent to Taylor’s apartment were put in an untenable, dangerous position. I truly feel for them and their families, because they were following orders. Policemen are put in dangerous positions to uphold the law all of the time, and I am very grateful for their service. But the way the report was written, omitting the details of Taylor’s killing, and the fact that bodycams were turned off, raises some troubling questions. I have yet to hear or read about any explanation for these details. All of these facts bound together add up to what appears to be a systemic problem.

Perhaps the person charged for the crime of Taylor’s death should be the person who signed off on the no knock warrant. Perhaps all three of the officers should have been charged with, at the very least, negligent homicide. If Breonna Taylor were my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I had the answers to these question and a clear explanation of why the grand jury thought no crime was committed .

The governor of Kentucky has called for the grand jury investigation to be made public, so that these and other questions can be answered. And although I understand that is not the usual protocol, I would also argue that this is not a usual case. If an innocent person’s life is taken in the commission of a warrant, the very least that should happen is that the officers and department should be able to explain why they did what they did.

Some of you are upset that there are more protests and riots. I abhor violence, but this verdict doesn’t seem like justice at all. Until the above questions are answered, this is one more example of systemic racism. And if there hadn’t been any protests early on about her death, many of us would not even know that Taylor had been killed and then left off of the police report.

Until systems that encourage racist behavior change, this ugly virus of racism will continue to spread through our institutions, our homes, and our hearts. I cannot stand silent while people of color are killed without consequence. Perhaps we cannot change peoples’ hearts, but we can change laws and systems that encourage the targeting of people of color.

No justice, no peace. If Breonna Taylor were my daughter, I would fight for her until justice was served. I would want my daughter to get equal justice under the law. Wouldn’t you?

The F Word

One of the hardest things for us as human beings is the F word. No, dear one, not the word that immediately springs to mind when you hear that term. I am talking about forgiveness.

I have struggled with the F word my whole life, and I suspect you have too. The writer Anne LaMott calls earth “forgiveness school.” That term sticks with me because it so sharply reminds us that we all, in every day of our lives, have the opportunity to give and to receive forgiveness.

Why is forgiving people so hard when it is so necessary to our emotional health and well being? And why is it even harder to forgive those who have hurt the people we love?

When I was a high school counselor, a student named Sarah came to me and confided that she was pregnant. She was living with her grandparents, who had taken her in because neither of her parents were able to support her at that point. She hadn’t told her grandparents of the pregnancy yet, hadn’t sought medical attention, and was trying to figure out what to do next. My advice to her was to tell her grandparents, because they were going to find out anyway and the delay would cause more problems that would only make the situation worse. I told her that her grandparents loved her and that they would help her. She then asked if she could have them come to school so she could tell them with me present, for support. I grudgingly agreed since it was my advice to tell them, after all.

Her grandparents came to school the next day, thinking we were having a visit about graduation requirements. Sarah didn’t waste much time getting to the point. She announced to them that she was pregnant, in love with her boyfriend, and planned on keeping the baby. There were several horrible moments of uncomfortable silence. I watched grandpa and was seriously concerned he might be having a stroke. Breaking the silence, grandma began to sob. Grandpa found his voice, although it was shaky and uncertain. He spoke slowly, and his words were icy. “You will no longer live in our house. When you get home today, we will have your things packed. We don’t care where you go.”

Sarah’s grandparents got up and left my office without a word to me or Sarah. And Sarah, who had been mute through their response, began to sob as well. Through her tears, she said her boyfriend had already told her she could stay with him if she needed to. And me? I felt like I had betrayed them all. It was as if everything I had told her was a lie, and her situation seemed a thousand times worse. I told her how sorry I was that this had all happened, and I hoped things would improve in time. I thought I had probably earned the title of “Worst Counselor Ever” that day.

A couple of weeks passed, and I received a call from the main office to inform me I had a visitor. Sarah’s grandma had come to see me. She apologized for the scene in my office, and said that being blindsided didn’t bring out the best in she or her husband. She added that they were making reparations with Sarah, had asked her to come back to their home and were trying to help her boyfriend get a better paying job since he would have a child to support. I told her how glad I was that they changed their minds about keeping Sarah out of their lives, because she really needed their support. I have never forgotten what she said next.

“If we hadn’t decided to forgive Sarah, how could I ever live with myself? We love her so dearly. She wasn’t trying to hurt us but the pain she gave us that day nearly killed my husband. I couldn’t sleep nights not knowing if she was safe. When you love someone, forgiveness is the only option if you want to have any peace.”

This family went on to work out their less- than-perfect situation, but isn’t that what all of life looks like? That is often how forgiveness works– you let go of the pain, the hurt, the sheer horribleness of whatever someone else has done in order to move forward. Whether it’s your spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend, a coworker– we must forgive their trespasses.

Some of you will argue that some offenses are unforgiveable, things like infidelity, betrayal, abuse, the deep and intentional wounding both physical and emotional. I would never argue that a person should stay in a relationship or situation that causes them harm. Sometimes holding onto anger feels so good and so right. But we all know forgiveness heals us far more than it helps the person we are forgiving. Humans were not designed to carry the burden of bitterness for our entire lives. And forgiveness doesn’t always happen quickly; sometimes, it takes years. For a long time I was unwilling to forgive my father for the way he treated my mother when she was dying of cancer. He often acted like she was a big inconvenience to him, and was very uncaring to her in almost every way possible. After her doctor told us she only had hours to live, I went home to relay the information to my father (he wasn’t at the hospital, and rarely ever was while she was there). I gave him the news, and his response was to shrug his shoulders. That’s it. No words, no sadness. I was so angry I took a swing at him, but luckily I missed. I told him he made me sick and I meant it. He shrugged his shoulders again, and walked away. I wish I could say I worked through this quickly, but I didn’t. I dwelled on it and replayed the incident like a bad scene from a B movie. Over time I began to realize that my father was just who he was. He was flawed, and my bitterness towards him would never change that. I was poisoning myself with my own bitterness and hate, but that would never change what happened. I did forgive my father, and in retrospect, I am also pretty sure I did some things growing up that I needed forgiveness for as well. I was never as close to him as I was my mother, but was able to have a relationship with him for all the years until his death. I am thankful for those years, the relationship, and the forgiveness.

The year 2020 has been a crash course in forgiveness school. Maybe all of the hard things we have been enduring can make us a little better at forgiveness, at understanding that we are all flawed human beings, and that we all have probably botched a few things during this unprecedented year. As a Christian, Jesus commanded us to forgive one another. Even if you’re not a Christian, please know that forgiveness, while one of the hardest, most unselfish things a person can give, also gives you redemption– something we all need. I wish I had a five point plan or a step by step guide to help you with the F word, but I don’t. I just know it is something we must do if we want to live in peace with each other in this oh so imperfect world.